Filmmaker Mike Leigh's biography of the landscape painter J.M.W. Turner is what critics call "austere"—which means it's slow and grim and deliberately hard to love—yet…
Q. The Hulk never knows when he'll be angry enough to metamorphose into a giant of extra proportions; yet whenever he does metamorphose, he always has his shorts on. I'm a science fiction fanatic but I've never come across the explanation as to how Hulk is not running around totally naked. (Her Lao, Saint Paul MN)
A. "I'm as fascinated as you about that," Hulk actor Eric Bana told the London Observer. "Obviously it's got to do with the fact that otherwise we'd have a large green penis flopping around, and that would diminish the chances of us opening in 4,000 cinemas across the country."
Q. I've been surprised that in the many reviews of the new film "Alex and Emma" (including your own), there has been no mention of the 1964 William Holden-Audrey Hepburn film "Paris When It Sizzles" -- which has almost the exact same plot: Holden is a screenwriter who has to finish a script for Noel Coward before the weekend is over ... he and stenographer Hepburn act out the plot in their fantasies and fall in love in the process. (Al Featherston, Durham NC)
A. I've not seen "Paris When It Sizzles," but many other AM readers made the same observation. Both films seem to have been inspired by the experience of Dostoyevsky, who, to pay urgent gambling debts, dictated his novel The Gambler in 30 days to a stenographer, and fell in love with her. The resemblance seems uncanny.
Q. I agree with the reader who was disappointed in Stanley Kauffmann for not reviewing the Matrix films. Kauffmann is a lucid and insightful critic, and if he feels the Matrix is "adolescent" and "trite," then I'd like to read exactly why. But I also regard critics as having an obligation to review major releases, especially those with a popular cultural impact. Why else become a critic? I wonder about those who try to build a career championing "small" films and obscure directors. It's like becoming a sports writer and refusing to cover the Superbowl. When Kauffmann doesn't write even a few paragraphs on the films, it seems like a dereliction of duty. (D. Newbert, University of New Mexico)
A. Kauffmann, a critic I have admired since I was in college, reviews one or two films a week. Believe it or not, most weeks there are films more deserving of his lucid insights than "The Matrix Reloaded." On the New Republic web site, note particularly his review of "The Son," a film of astonishing brilliance. I can think of many reasons to become a critic other than the "obligation to review major releases," and one of them is the obligation to review major films.
Q. The studio releasing "From Justin to Kelly" did not screen the movie for critics. Isn't this pretty much the kiss of death for a new release? When was the last a movie that wasn't screened for critics wound up being a megahit at the box office? (Andrew Milner, Bryn Mawr PA)
A. The strategy almost always backfires, generating more negative publicity than it prevents. A wise old publicist told me that while negative reviews can hurt ambitious pictures, they can't hurt junk, because the public knows it's junk and doesn't mind; therefore, the reviews simply provide more publicity. "Has anyone," he asked me, "ever stayed away from a Friday the 13th movie because it got bad reviews?"
Q. In your review of "Together" (2003), you said, "it's a little hard to figure out exactly what her (Lili's) profession is." Then you did some Web research and quoted several comments. I think maybe you would like to know what director Chen Kaige himself said about the character, who is played by his real life wife Chen Hong. He told the Chinese paper Nanfang Daily in December 2001 (I translated it into English myself): "The role Chen Hong played is just same as every one of us; a person earns money to live. Except, her profession is a little bit vague, because even by the end of the film, people still don't know what she does. I don't think the relationship between (the character of) Chen Hong and the boy (Xiao Chun, played by Tang Yun) is an "unethical affair." What is really attracting the boy is her beauty and he lost his mother since he was very young. Therefore, the support she offers to the boy is no doubt a kind of mother's love. Their relationship is very complicated but is also very pure." I think the director has made it very clear, or intentionally unclear, on Lili's profession. Anything else would be speculation. (Ye Meng, Beijing, China)
A. Which didn't stop critics from speculating. In my review, I quoted a range of opinions, from the New York Post ("the proverbial hooker with the heart of gold") to the U. S., Conference of Catholic Bishops ("a goodhearted neighbor (who) offers some of the film's most tender moments"). It seems clear that Lili is supported by men who do not seem motivated primarily by charity. By making her profession vague, however, Chen Keige protects his wonderful movie's suitability for families.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
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